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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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#721: Use Cognitive Biases to Your Advantage

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 19, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 19, 2011
I would expect that all advisors want their recommendations to be judged fairly by the client and not be unduly influenced by either extraneous information or bad logic. How do we make sure that the information we present gets a "fair hearing"?

None of us is immune to cognitive bias, regardless of how much we'd like to believe we could impartially decide on the facts alone. Even where we take an oath of impartiality, there is an expectation that some biases are still present and the best we can do is to recognize them, disclose where possible, and compensate or recuse ourselves as appropriate. As a consultant, you have to sometimes work hard to avoid such biases.

When it comes expecting clients to judge your work impartially, it is up to you to understand the different kinds of biases and deliberately structure our presentations to use techniques to level the playing field. Note that deliberately introducing bias in client decision making to favor your position starts you down the path to unethical behavior.

We can't go over all the dozens of biases here but here are a few of the most important for consultants to be aware of:
  • Recency Bias - giving greater importance to the most recent event (e.g., the person who presents last before a decision is to be made has a slight advantage).
  • Anchoring - the tendency to overweigh in importance a dominant statement presented or experience already known (e.g., describing the problem in terms that discount alternative explanations or focusing on only one aspect of a complex problem before offering a solution that resolves only that aspect of the problem).
  • Normalcy Bias - discounting outcomes that rarely or have never occurred before (e.g., discounting a looming disaster even though the precursors to that disaster that have already occurred also are rare).
  • Confirmation Bias - The tendency to favor an approach or piece of information that is familiar or consistent with one's world view or history (e.g., a proposal to do "more of the current approach" has higher intuitive appeal than one based on a novel approach).
  • Halo effect - the tendency to attribute greater value to suggestions from a well-known entity rather than the merits of the item (e.g., giving greater credibility due to position or perceived market brand)
  • Loss Aversion - the tendency to place greater emphasis on avoiding the loss of something than the potential gain of the same amount of that thing (e.g., using fear to promote saving something in danger of being lost rather than using desire to promote the potential acquisition of something).
Tip: As you can see, each of these biases can be at work in how you approach your own work as a consultant but also are present in your clients when they are deciding on the merits of your recommendations. For a pretty good review of these biases and some practices to manage them, consider (among many other sources) Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions. Many of the best decision making work was done in the early 1990s and the best resources are from that era, one of those instances where newer is not necessarily better.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assumptions  attribution  decision making  interpretation  learning  methodology  presentations  professional development 

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#714: Balance Your Intuition and Thoughtfulness

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 8, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011
When I began my consulting career, I was amazed by the ability of my mentor to just "know" the scope of a problem and come up with solutions. It was more than just having seen the problem before; it was intuitive creation that didn't require long analysis and contemplation. Is this something that can be taught (or learned)? It would be a really useful skill for a consultant to have.

Much of what we see in people who can seemingly instantly come up with a problem solution is pattern recognition. They have seen either the problem before or enough components to assemble them into an understanding of the problem. In many cases, this ability to recognize patterns is combined with a pattern creation capability in which they can then devise a solution. Oh, that we could all have this capability.

Yet there is a difference between what we consider intuition and what most successful problems require for their solution: thoughtfulness. As fascinated as we are by quick thinking, it carries with it a range of flaws and dangers, including recency and other biases. Thoughtfulness, on the other hand, is less revered and people who insist on deliberate, logical thought are often considered pedantic. Yet, deliberative thinking also carries risks, including bias, information overload, and overconfidence.

Each style has its proponents but it has become apparent that neither is very effective by itself. If we want to be a productive and effective consultant who recognizes patterns and creates robust solutions, we need to learn how to use both capabilities together. We spend so much time learning consulting processes, analytical techniques and interpersonal skills that we neglect learning how best to effectively use our thinking engines.

Tip: A terrific journey through this issue is Dan Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Like much of Kahneman's work on judgment, intuition and decision making under uncertainty. it should be considered a user's guide to the consulting mindset. This is one of the best books on the subject and one that bears reading twice.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting skills  contact information  creativity  decision making  knowledge assets  knowledge management  learning  process 

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#637: Is Your Advice (or Timing) Overwhelming Your Client?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I have a client who asks a lot of great questions and wants us to diagnose and recommend in a lot of areas. But, when it comes time to present findings and recommendations, he doesn’t seem to want all we have come up with. Should we trim back our analysis or just find another way to give him all the information he originally asked for?

It is unclear that this is just a question of how much analysis to conduct. Beyond establishing mutual expectations about the scope of engagement, depth of your analysis, and format of the briefing and likely decision making, there is an issue of how much complexity you should impose on your client.

It is the nature of consulting that you will dig deeper into an issue and likely come up with content that is more than the client needs or wants. Don't confuse your roles as researcher and advisor. If you become enamored with all you have learned and try to present this to your client, regardless of how organized your data and clever your presentation, you run a real risk of hampering your client's ability to make sense of, and take effective action from, your work. Your goal is about client decision making, not your analysis.

Tip: Given the volume and complexity of information your client has to process daily (beyond what you are feeding him), your effectiveness starts with understanding how complex a decision space your client wants or needs. A recent New York Times Magazine article Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? makes an excellent case for moderating our own, as well as that of our clients', information for decision making. Another fascinating part of this article is about how decision making is affected by when a decision is to be made. This has important implications for when you schedule your briefings or when you expect your client to make a particularly complex or emotional decision. If you want to make sure your clients get the best you have to offer, this article is worth the time to find out how much and when to present the most effective information.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  communication  decision making  information management 

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#618: How to Get Your New Ideas Off the Ground

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2011
I have lots of ideas about new consulting services and ways to market them. The problem is that I am so busy keeping up with my current business I am not sure what to give up to carve out time to try some of these new lines of business. It's not that I can't prioritize, but more that I am not sure what ideas are worth investing in.

In some ways, the fortunate consultant doesn't have many new ideas to try out. Their business just runs itself and evolves slowly as needed. The truly cursed consultant generates a steady stream of new ideas about practice management, marketing, client services and even entirely new lines of business. There's not enough time, capital, mindshare or energy to tackle even a few of these. The first of many decisions is to understand what risks are involved with trying new ideas (e.g., psychic or financial risks of failure, conflicts or branding risks of succeeding, among many others). What holds many of us back is not having a clear sense of both the path and the outcome of trying out such ideas.

That's just the pregame warm-up. The real issue is actually how to get off the ground what is likely to be a more complex, time consuming and costly idea than you planned. Is the concept really complete? Do I really have the capital? Who will backstop my current business while my attention is diverted? Can I jointly launch several of these ventures? If this sounds like a business plan, you're right. What keeps many of these ideas in the draft stage is a lack of thorough analysis of design, deployment and operation. Once we know exactly what is involved, a lot of these ideas either make no sense (so we can stop worrying about them) or they are obvious investments (and we can get started).

Tip: There’s one more step. Even after we have a competent business plan, we sometimes need a kick in the pants to get moving. No amount of risk or business analysis will give you this. It is all about personality, enthusiasm and feedback from your peers or the market. 99% is a smart collection of articles and (blissfully short and non-pedantic) videos about making ideas happen (there's a book by the site owner as well). Whenever you need some juice for your ideas, watch a few videos on areas like discipline, bias to action, focus and collaboration.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting tools  decision making  intellectual property  motivation  planning  risk analysis  your consulting practice 

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#617: If the Conclusion Is Obvious, Think Again

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I consult to boards of mid-sized companies. Several of my clients have most board decisions either on the consent agenda or that result in a unanimous vote up or down. Is this normal for governance of this size organization and, if not, how should I, as a consultant, raise this with my client?

This raises a lot of behavioral, decision-making, and group dynamics issues, beyond the organization and governance point I infer you are making. A key function of governance is to set direction and limits and of management is to make decisions. Well -structured governance and management provide for diverse points of view. Therefore, a well constituted board and good management team will necessarily have vigorous discussion - and likely disagreement. If there is not, opinion is either missing or is being suppressed for some reason. Think about some legislatures when votes are taken on strict party lines rather than representing constituent interests.

Just like your value as a consultant depends on your independence and objectivity, too much conformance and not enough independent thinking can compromise the potential value of governance and management functions with our clients. Reaching a conclusion on what is presumably an important strategic, operational or cultural issues should be a warning sign that more discussion is needed. It is part of your responsibility to raise this with your client and suggest ways to increase the diversity of discussion. this could be through different individuals, structure, process or expectations.

Tip: Lack of vigorous discussion between you and your client should also be a warning sign that you may be losing a part of the value of the interaction. Do you really want your client to agree with everything you say? If he or she does, how can you be sure they are critically evaluating your recommendations and are fully engaged? Likewise, if you are agreeing with everything your client says, it is likely you are not sufficiently critical or engaged in your project. Don't be disagreeable but do think critically, and expect others to do the same.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  communication  consultant role  decision making  facilitation  roles and responsibilities 

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